BY BELISARIO RIGHI
Saint Jerome in the Study - by Jan Van Eyck
That morning, for Antenore Gatto, second secretary of the Councilor for Transport Eufemio Maliprandi, his last day of life began. He had been preparing for this appointment for some time. Combined biogenetics and cloning had created a world of very long-lived human beings that could span two hundred and fifty and even three hundred years. By modifying genes and replacing with cloning the organs that deteriorated with age, humans, completely immune to disease and insensitive to aging, became incredibly long-lived, but in this way they ended up creating a society destined to be old for many, too many years. This side effect could not be avoided and so the world was now populated by old people, whose physical and intellectual decay sometimes lasted more than a hundred years and the costs incurred by the state administration, forced to pay centenary pensions, were incalculable. The state now had to economically support about one third of the population, for an exaggeratedly long time, with serious consequences on the balance of payments. By nature, being the productivity of the individual inevitably linked to age, from a study conducted on the population, it emerged that the intellectual and physical faculties necessary for the correct and efficient performance of one's work tasks began to decline after the 125th year of life. A neo-progressive opposition politician, who won with a large majority in the 2227 elections, thanks to the consensus obtained, managed to promulgate a law according to which, at the age of 125, any citizen, even if in excellent health, had to be suppressed, to ensure that it does not age and not to weigh on the revenues of the state. A riot broke out, a civil war broke out, but the revolt was quelled and the law began to be applied. The detractors of this infamous edict were told that in reality it was not a pure suppression, but only a suspension, a momentary interruption of life. Of the remains of the terminated individual, the genetic code would be preserved, from which, with cloning, the individual himself would be reconstructed in the future.
In essence, it would have been reborn and then interrupted again its life, as soon as it reached the starting point of aging. Man would have lived only the years of his youth, without ever crossing the threshold of old age and science, continually targeting new frontiers, would have ensured ever longer periods of life. Paradoxically, death might even seem like a good thing. One would have lived, albeit on several occasions, through endlessly repeated cycles of rebirths, in a state of eternal youth. After all, what was lost, if not old age? The demagogic project was eventually accepted, even if many people had strong doubts about these hypothetical rebirths, above all because they wondered, if with the cloning of the body, the cloning of the spirit would also take place. In the rebirth, the same physical characteristics would be preserved, naturally improved, because no one would be born short or ugly or fat. Everyone would have been born more handsome, but would the spirit have transmigrated into the new body, with the same peculiarities as before? But you know, ethics does not go hand in hand with science and especially with the thirst for power of men and so, evading these just ethical-religious principles, exploiting the enthusiasm generated in the population of an eternal existence, project cancellations were initiated. If before, only a few believers were granted the consolation of the perpetuation of life and only in the afterlife, now this certainty was infused in everyone and in a more captivating way, because the continuation of life would take place right on earth. Death, viaticum for eternity, no longer frightened us. It remained only to study a system of temporal rotation. The problem was solved in a very simple way, by imposing a cycle of two hundred and fifty years, divided into one hundred and twenty-five of life and one hundred and twenty-five of expectation for rebirth.
This system of control of deaths and at the same time of births, generated a perfect and efficient mechanism of society, where old age and disease are now banned, health care costs reduced to almost zero and social security costs completely canceled, man had the only thought is to produce and live in great well-being. Everyone was happy and lived in abundance. Accidental deaths were reduced to a minimum, as safety systems reached excellent levels in transport, at work and in all dangerous situations. It was a beautiful fairy tale, in which one lived well and above all with expectations for the future, not even imagined in the past. But let's go back to Antenore Gatto. That day he was in fact experiencing the last day of his last year of life. It was his first suspension. He had not formed a family. He hadn't had any children. He had had relationships with several women, but he had never married and so he showed up alone at that fateful date. On a weekly basis, the Assessor granted hearings to the public, so that requests or disputes relating to his department were advanced to him and Antenore had the task of registering the defendants, drawing up a moral and behavioral profile for each of them, to draw up statistical frameworks aimed at improving the condition of postulants, according to a system tending towards perfection. Antenore, by virtue of his work, had become a profound connoisseur of intellects, an expert scrutinizer of the human soul and on this last day of his first cycle of life, he devoted the time left to him to examine the depths of his soul. He thought this was going to be a great day. This is how everyone lived it, even if in the grip of considerable fear, due to the leap into the dark that they would have made. Who knows, perhaps in the new life they would have become Presidents of the various council groups of the Departments or even President of the General Council. Who knows what magnificent doors would open in one hundred and twenty-five years.
But Antenore was not interested in all this and he approached, minute by minute, the fatal moment in the most total indifference, without any movement of spirit, without joy or fear and without particular desires, except a powerful appetite. He wondered how it was possible that having only a few hours before sleeping so much time, only to wake up as a child in a world completely different from the present one, eradicated from all his reality, his only desire, was to eat and he thought: "If that's what I feel like doing, why not? But, just because it's a special day, I want a special lunch!" Greedy for meat and sweets, meat and sweets must have been his menu. He took all the money he had and went to the best deli in town. He bought a splendid beef roast beef, sweet and sour onions, his favorite side dish with rare meat, and a hazelnut cream pie covered with very thin chocolate leaves. A few meters from his home, he entered a wine and liquor store. He thought a Brunello da Montalcino was the ideal wine for that meat and bought it. For the dessert he opted for champagne, a special vintage Dom Perignon and finally a good Glenmorangie whiskey of pure malt, aged for twenty years, to finish the meal. He stopped at the tobacconist's and took some very expensive Cohiba lanceros. He spent a fortune, but what would he do with that money? Satisfied with his purchases, he went home and set the table with the most beautiful dishes he owned. He began to eat the meat, chewing it slowly to suggest all the tasty juice, accompanying it with some spring onions and generous sips of Brunello. After the meat, he uncorked the champagne bottle and cut a piece of cake. It was very soft and fragrant. It had a delicate nutty taste, which went perfectly, in an exciting contrast of sweetness, with the chocolate leaves that covered it. With the cake, he drank Dom Perignon. Finally, he made himself a coffee and, lying in a comfortable chair, poured himself some whiskey and lit a Cohiba.
He sat there with no thought in his mind, smoking his cigar and sipping Glenmorangie, until he felt a little tipsy. He liked to drink, but only the little that could give him a slight sense of euphoria. This time he had exaggerated, but he thought that given the circumstance, there was absolutely no need to worry, thinking about health. What would have changed if in a few hours, when they came knocking on the door to take him to the clinic for the dead, they found him drunk? Anything! And then he continued to smoke and drink. It was nice to sit there, relaxed in the chair, doing nothing. He did not think about his future, indeed quite other things came to mind, other facts that had marked his life and the more he remembered them, the more he loved them with a complete love, without regrets. He wasn't overwhelmed with panic. Each within himself lived those moments with the terror that they were truly the last because no one was sure of being reborn and not because the system, as it was built, gave rise to doubts, but because in his heart, everyone had always thought that from there to one hundred and twenty-five years, many things could have changed, even against the will of those in charge of the functioning of this practice. A cataclysm could have upset everything, or any madman could have put an end to this saga of births and rebirths, or for some hidden reason, the genetic code preserved for future cloning could have been lost. It was natural to be afraid, but Antenore did not have it and continued to quietly drink his good whiskey and lit another cigar. Those who are familiar with drinking know very well that after euphoria, before one enters that phase of clouding, one passes through the stage of thoughts that alternate in a confused and uncontrollable way in the mind and often goes to fish in the memory. , sometimes even jumping to the future, with the fantasy that gallops in projects and chimeras that will then vanish with the fumes of alcohol. For Antenore there was no exception.
After the euphoria, he began to retrace some stages of his life with different eyes and as time passed and the whiskey bottle was emptying, he became fully aware of his past life and found it horrible, squalid, without meaning. He saw himself as a puppet, pulled by invisible strings, inflicted with the curse of a planned life, without hope of improvement, aimed only at the welfare of the community. A community of people who had been deprived of every will, every individualism, in compliance with a perfect concept of life, without pain and suffering, without even the unpredictability of death. He understood that that was why his life had been flat. He had been prevented from experiencing imponderable, unplanned, unexpected events, dependent on fate and with great clarity, he realized that only idiots could have conceived such a world, made exclusively for idiots. In that moment, he understood that beauty is found only in the transience of beauty itself, that only what changes, that changes, that deteriorates is beautiful. Everything can be beautiful. Every act of creation is touched by beauty, when it reaches the peak of its flowering, when its cells reach their maximum splendor and then decay and in this decay beauty appears, such as transient, dying and not eternal, while in perpetual things, since there is no transience, there can be no beauty. Hers had not been a life, it had only been a process of growth, an existence little more than virtual, of which each piece fit into the mosaic of its becoming with scientific and not casual coldness, not marked by free will, the supreme element of definition of life itself. By taking death away from him, life was taken from him. In the evolution and concretization of existential acts, the dualistic antithesis of affirmation-negation determines the only way of realization, the only possibility of grasping the true meaning of life that passes from being to becoming. Antenore loved Zen philosophy.
In this philosophy, enlightenment comes through the awareness of knowledge, which can be intuitive or analytical. In the first form, the intuitive one, it is assumed that there is an identification of the self, understood as an abstract and all-encompassing concept. In the second form, the analytical one, there is the dismemberment into ever smaller and self-defined parts of the self, which individually determine the elements that make it up, but do not fully enclose the concept. When we think about numbers and analytically observe them and write 1 and then 2 then 3 and so on, we will never reach the end, because we know that the series is infinite, while with intuitive knowledge, we can perceive the entire infinite totality of numbers with extreme ease and therefore proceeding from the outside, or so to speak by abstraction, transcending the individuality of the components of the numerical series, we succeed in the intent. If we think of a human body and dissect it, the torso, or the limbs, or the nails, will never give us the image and the concept of the body in its entirety, but if we intuitively consider it in its entirety and in its vitality, then we are able to contain it conceptually in our mind. On the other hand, in Antenore, the examination of his life, in whatever way he performed it, was always precluded. Analytically, it was impossible for him to come to the knowledge of his own existence, but intuitively he could have done so. Instead, no! Lacking the terminal part, he lacked an element to complete the concept. He was unable to define himself, to give an idealistic representation of himself, he felt incomplete, placed in the hierarchy of creation in a position inferior to that of a vegetable. A flower is born, grows and dies. A cycle of becoming that defines an existence closes, but for Antenore this was not possible. He lacked the ultimate element of becoming, the final act that determines the completeness of being. Nothing was felt, little more than an ectoplasm.
The thoughts, desires, fears, joys of his one hundred and twenty-five years of life were nothing, because they led to nothing, but how to change this unacceptable state of affairs, how to rebel against this absurd anathema that prevented one from living a real life? There was only one system: to die. Really, definitely die. Thus closing, with a final, irreversible act, this latency, this limbic existence. Death would have represented an act of love, a recognition of one's existence and being a man. Only in this way could he redeem his absurd life and rightfully enter the cosmic nature of the world. Meanwhile it was evening. Soon he would have to report to the Termination Center to have his life suspended. It was now a few hours away. The microchip that had been installed at birth, through which his state of health was periodically checked, had already, several times in the last few days, announced this fateful moment. He was told that he would have to go to the Termination Center by ten in the evening, and that a delay, even if a small amount, could cause irreparable damage to his regeneration. He absolutely did not have to go beyond that deadline. The organism was built to last exactly one hundred and twenty-five years and not even an hour longer and as far as Antenore knew, no one had ever postponed that moment. Any act of sedition would only have caused damage to the person who, in any case, through the microchip would soon be identified and forcibly taken to the Center, so it might be worth being obedient to the law. But he thought that if they found him lifeless, they would no longer be able to do anything to him, they would not succeed in their abominable intentions and he would have his death and with death his life. He wanted to be a real man and not a mold that can be uprooted and transplanted wherever you want. He wanted his dignity as a man. He still had three or maybe four hours left. It would have been enough for him to carry out his rebellion.
He went to the bathroom and filled the tub with hot water. He undressed and immersed himself in it. He stood still for about five minutes, until his whole body relaxed and at that point he cut the veins in his wrists with a razor. The blood flowing slowly, carried away the vital essence and the more the tub was tinged with red, the more Antenore relaxed. He was going to meet death, as if it were the dearest of his habits, and while this came, his mind would go back to the things and facts of the past. Now finally, everything seemed beautiful to him. The moments of love, the moments of happiness, the sunny days, the morning rain. Everything he loved most was in his thoughts. For the first time, he was happy. He did not think of the darkness that awaited him, he felt within himself only the tenderness of those moments and delighted he savored them in their immense beauty. Creation, which with its magnificence had never touched him, moved him and made him cry. He finally felt truly alive and understood how great is the gift that God has given us, giving us this wonderful life that will have to end and with its end he will take away everything that concerns us, but who knows why, at the end there will be only the good times , while the ugly ones, if there have been any, will be dispersed by the wind of time and will disappear in the light of hope, which always lights up in us at the moment of passing away. Antenore Gatto, like the men of the past, who lived before him, fell asleep pervaded by a great feeling of hope.